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Cognitive views of learning

Behaviorists define learning as a change in behavior brought about by experience with little concern for the mental or internal aspects of learning. The cognitive view, in contrast, sees people as active learners who initiate experiences, seek out information to solve problems, and reorganize what they already know to achieve new insights. In fact, learning within this perspective is seen as "transforming significant understanding we already have, rather than simple acquisitions written on blank slates" (Greeno, Collins, and Resnick, p. 18). Much of the work on behavioral learning principles has been with animals in controlled laboratory settings. The goal is to identify a few general laws of learning that apply to all higher organisms (including humans, regardless of age, intelligence, or other individual differences). Cognitive psychologists, on the other hand, focus on individual and developmental differences in cognition; they have not sought general laws of learning. Cognitive views of learning are consistent with the educational theories of Bruner and Ausubel and with approaches that teach learning strategies, such as summarizing, organizing, planning, and note taking.

Constructivist theories of learning.

Constructivist perspectives on learning and teaching are increasingly influential today. These views are grounded in the research of Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, the Gestalt psychologists, Fredric Bartlett, and Bruner as well as the Progressive educational philosophy of Dewey. There are constructivist approaches in science and mathematics education, in educational psychology and anthropology, and in computer-based education. Some constructivist views emphasize the shared, social construction of knowledge; others see social forces as less important.

Even though there is no single constructivist theory, many constructivist teaching approaches recommend the following:

· Complex, challenging learning environments and authentic tasks

· Social negotiation and shared responsibility as a part of learning

· Multiple representations of content

· Understanding that knowledge is constructed

· Student-centered instruction

Inquiry as an example of constructivist teaching:

Dewey described the basic inquiry learning format in 1910. There have been many adaptations of this strategy, but the teacher usually presents a puzzling event, question, or problem. The students formulate hypotheses to explain the event or solve the problem, collect data to test the hypotheses, draw conclusions, and reflect on the original problem and on the thinking processes needed to solve it. Like discovery learning, inquiry methods require great preparation, organization, and monitoring to be sure everyone is engaged and challenged.

A second example of constructivist teaching influenced by Vygotsky's theories of assisted learning is called cognitive apprenticeships. There are many models, but most share six features:

· Students observe an expert (usually the teacher) model the performance.

· Students get external support through coaching or tutoring (including hints, feedback, models, reminders).

· Conceptual scaffolding (in the form of outlines, explanations, notes, definitions, formulas, procedures, etc.) is provided and then gradually faded as the student becomes more competent and proficient.

· Students continually articulate their knowledge - putting into words their understanding of the processes and content being learned.

· Students reflect on their progress, comparing their problem solving to an expert's performance and to their own earlier performances.

· Students are required to explore new ways to apply what they are learning - ways that they have not practiced at the professional's side.



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